Dinosaurs of politics

Published August 5, 2011

THE dinosaurs’ last hurrah was 65 million years ago after they ruled the earth for 200 million years. Their extinction paved the way for the rise of the mammals who took another 10 million years to emerge from the desolation.

When the dinosaurs of Pakistan’s politics will have their last hurrah and how long it will take for a new breed of productive mammal-politicians to establish their rule is hard to guess. But 60 years of political dinosaurs in the modern time frame seems like a million of the pre-historic Triassic period.

Volcanic eruptions are believed to have set in motion the process of the dinosaurs’ extinction. Recent research by Micha Ruhl of Netherland’s Utrecht University (quoted by The Economist) suggests that it was methane, a greenhouse gas much stronger than carbon dioxide, that hastened their end.

Mounting popular protests, recurring natural disasters that wreck the lives of the poor and an upheaval resulting in the loss of the more populous half of the country have driven the old dinosaurian establishment comprised of politicians, bureaucrats and generals (often sustained by judges) close to their demise. Challenging judicial orders — already made or in the making — could prove to be their methane. They can buy time but not for long.

Dinosaurs were brainless reptiles. Their present-day human counterparts are brainy enough to realise that they must not defy the legal writ. It is not parliament but the constitution that is supreme, and the Supreme Court, and not parliament, is its interpreter in the last resort. The fundamental flaw of our senior, or ageing, bosses is the tendency to place their wishes, or orders, above parliamentary traditions, the rule of law, fairness and human rights.

Such is the attitude that marks their dealings with public servants. When a bureaucrat resists illegal or improper orders — mostly oral — it is hard for him to survive. He is considered defiant, a doom-monger or partial to their rivals. It is not reason but personal pique that drives their actions.

Most civil servants barring sycophants whose number, sadly, is growing, fall victim to perverse political behaviour. The normal tenure of three years in senior and sensitive jobs was cut short for this writer to a few months on four occasions. No reason was given but, seemingly, the message conveyed was that the party boss, the chief executive or the chief martial law administrator can do whatever he likes and to whomever.

The result, notwithstanding pretensions to the contrary, has been that hardly any bureaucrat today goes by the advice of the founder of the nation “to act as true servants of the people even at the risk of any minister or ministry trying to interfere with you in the discharge of your duties as civil servants. I hope it will not be so, but even if some of you have to suffer as a victim — I hope it will not happen — I expect you to do so readily. We shall, of course, see that there is security for you and safeguards….”

The Quaid’s hope that “it will not happen” and his promise of giving security both have been consigned to the archives. Ziaul Haq even mutilated the Quaid’s exhortations to suit his own designs.

The security that the head of state and father of the nation had promised can be given only by the constitution, not by the Supreme Court. The fate of Sohail Ahmed, a civil servant of undisputed competence and integrity, who was made OSD (he was subsequently appointed secretary to the narcotics control division) for obeying the order of the Supreme Court was in the hands of the prime minister who made him OSD.

Has the Supreme Court relented to avert chaos or is it the beginning of the end of independence of the judiciary and total subordination of bureaucracy to politics is a question that haunts the people to the glee of most party bosses.

Though much is said about saving the system, the reality is that political power today, as in the past, revolves around individuals. It is hard to believe that Mr Asif Zardari is head of state under the same system and constitution as were Chaudhry Fazal Elahi and Rafiq Tarar. It is equally hard to believe that Mr Iftikhar Chaudhry is chief justice of the same Supreme Court presided over by Mr Irshad Hasan Khan who allowed Gen Pervez Musharraf to amend the constitution if it failed “to provide a solution for attainment of his declared objectives”. Gen Musharraf later looked the other way when he held on to power for nine years against three sanctioned by the court.

The contention of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that the question of the respective jurisdictions of the organs of the state will be resolved in parliament is untenable. Such a question doesn’t arise as the jurisdictions stand demarcated in the constitution itself and any dispute arising has to be settled in the Supreme Court.

Parliament can amend the constitution but it must not, even if the required majority is forthcoming, because its representative character is doubtful and its credibility low. The issue being debated, on the other hand, is fundamental and requires a fresh mandate from the people which can come only through elections held here and now. The political dinosaurs of all hues are understandably averse to that proposition for it might prove to be their last hurrah.

The writer is a former civil servant.




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